Worcester to be renamed Sixways Rugby and plan to merge with Stourbridge
It means that the Warriors will not play in the Championship next season
Worcester are to be renamed Sixways Rugby as Atlas director Jim O’Toole faces up to the backlash coming from creditors and angry Warriors fans who have seen their club killed off.
Rather than compete in the Championship next season in a move that would have ensured Worcester’s survival, ownership group Atlas plan to merge with semi-professional fourth tier club Stourbridge.
The Rugby Football Union had set a deadline of Tuesday for the Warriors to provide evidence they had met relevant conditions to participate in the division below the Gallagher Premiership, but O’Toole insists the governing body’s demands were too onerous.
It means that creditors, including players and staff, will not be paid debts owed to them totalling millions of pounds.
“We do not want to have to pay for the sins of the previous regime, so we couldn’t agree to the terms,” O’Toole told the PA news agency.
“There will be huge disappointment, we know there will. We’ve already seen some backlash this morning (Thursday) and we’re fully prepared for it.
“People have been asking for openness, honesty and transparency for the last seven months that this process has taken and we have been open about it this morning.
“This is a long-term strategy to create a sustainable business which will not be lumbered with the debt that a lot of the clubs in the top two levels have at the moment. We’ve taken two steps back to take three steps forward.”
When asked if he had sympathy for the creditors who would go unpaid, such as England centre Ollie Lawrence who is currently involved in the Six Nations, O’Toole replied: “Yes I do, absolutely.”
A former member of Worcester’s management has described the Warriors’ demise and the impact on those owed money as “absolutely disgusting”.
However, the proposed union between Sixways Rugby and Stourbridge’s first team remains subject to a vote by the National League Two West club’s membership, which is due to take place on Friday evening.
“We don’t think anyone can sign up to the RFU’s contractual requirements because they’re not reasonable,” O’Toole said.
“Had we signed, it would have given the RFU approval over all of our commercial developments that we want to do to fund the rugby. It would have given them approval over any borrowing we make against our own land.
“Also, they wanted to put us into special measures from day one. In business terms, special measures means you are at risk of insolvency but we are nowhere near that. We are very well funded and a million miles away from that.
“Going into debt just to join the Championship – we would have had to take on debt to pay off the rugby creditors, which in the current climate, we’re not prepared to do.”
Atlas’ plan is for Sixways Rugby, having joined Stourbridge, to play at Sixways in National League Two starting next season with the objective of reaching the Championship in 2026.
Stourbridge, who are located 21 miles north of Worcester, are currently at the foot of the table on minus five points.
Any name change and relocation can only proceed with RFU approval.
“The RFU has been clear that its priority was to enable Worcester Warriors to play in the Championship and Worcester Warriors Women in the Premier 15s in a sustainable way,” an RFU statement read.
“The information required has been asked for repeatedly and deadlines were extended to provide the best possible chance for this to happen.
“The RFU will now consult with the local rugby community over the proposed relocation of Stourbridge RFC and the change of name.
“Our priority is to ensure the best interests of rugby and the rugby community are preserved.”
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport statement added: “Despite repeated assurances from the Atlas Consortium, we are deeply disappointed that fans will no longer be able to support their club in the Championship – either next season or beyond.
“We fully support the RFU in its objective to obtain all necessary information with regards to the club’s sustainability and ownership when participating in their competitions.”Published: by Radio NewsHub